UNESCO handbook encouraging media reflection on terrorism coverage presented in the Arab world
"It is thought as a conversation from a media professional to another," said Professor Jean-Paul Marthoz, author of the UNESCO publication Terrorism and the Media: A Handbook for Journalists, at the launch of its Arabic translation on Monday 25 september in Tunis. He added that the handbook is based on international standards, and that "to be effective reporters need to localize it."
The presentation, attended by media professionals and representatives from the civil society, was at the presence of the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and information Mr Frank La Rue. It was co-organised with the Tunisian union of journalists SNJT, the Tunisian audio-visual regulator HAICA and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), and with the support of Sweden.
The importance of having a professional reflection on «the journalist's will to inform and the need to protect» was mentioned by Professor Marthoz. He said that media freedom is the best defense against terrorism, and observed that “freedom of expression unfortunately is in retreat around the world, partially because of terrorism.”
Mr La Rue stressed the need of protecting victims' dignity, as well as the importance of journalists' safety. While referring to the emergency regulations often adopted after terrorist attacks and which can impact on media freedom, he said that «national security is a matter of: i) protection of citizens, ii) protection of the institutions, and iii) protection of democracy.»
The UNESCO Assistant director-General recalled that freedom of expression is in the UN Plan of Action on Preventing Violent Extremism. He also observed that terrorism exists in every region of the world, including in too many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, hence, the need to make available to an Arab-speaking audience a tool conceived to accompany the work of journalists when dealing with terrorism.
The essential role of images while covering terrorist acts was mentioned by Mr Manoubi Marrouki, member of the newly created Tunisian Press Council. He also stressed the importance of an effective media self-regulation to prevent media falling into over-sensationalist or unethical coverage. Nouri Lajmi, President of the HAICA, mentioned how a monitoring work observing media coverage can help in raising awareness on deontological issues while reporting on terrorist acts.
Moderated by Mr Zied Dabbar, member of the SNJT's secretariat and IFJ's trainer on security of journalists, the debate had also the interventions of DCAF's project coordinator Mr Sami Badreddine, the head of the RSF office for Northern Africa Ms Yasmine Kacha, as well as of Tunisian media professionals.
Developed specifically for reporters, media professionals and journalism students, the Terrorism and the Media handbook (downloadable at https://en.unesco.org/terrorism-media) aims to encourage a reflection about some of the ethical and journalistic challenges they must navigate in this field of coverage. Topics covered include the journalistic “framing” of terrorism; the balance between freedom, security and responsibility; the handling of figures, images and words; the security of journalists; and relations with victims.